How Rockefeller’s Flexner Report Suppressed Electric & Magnetic therapy

Jan 25, 2023 | History, Sceptics

A major evaluation of American medicine, financed by the Carnegie Foundation and published in 1910 by the respected educator Abraham Flexner, had denounced the clinical use of electric shocks and currents, which had been applied, often over-enthusiastically, to many diseases since the mid-1700s. Electrotherapy sometimes seemed to work, but no one knew why, and it had gotten a bad name from the many charlatans who’d exploited it.  Its legitimate proponents had no scientific way to defend it, so the reforms in medical education that followed the Flexner report drove all mention of it from the classroom and clinic, just as the last remnants of belief in vital electricity were being purged from biology by the discovery of acetylcholine. This development dovetailed nicely with expanding knowledge of biochemistry and growing reliance on the drug industries products. Penicillin later made medicine almost exclusively drug orientated.

From Dr. Robert O. Becker, MD’s famous book, The Body Electric: Electromagnetism And The Foundation Of Life

The negative consequences of the reforms of the Flexner Report, went well beyond the purging of electrotherapy. It also resulted in the closure of some women’s medical schools; it was only after the Second World War that the Harvard and Yale medical schools opened their doors to women. While five of the then seven black led medical schools were also closed. In fact, the Beyond Flexner Alliance, now the Social Mission Alliance seeks to address the racial structural disparities created by the Flexner Report. Back to Becker…

Meanwhile the work of Faraday, Edison, Marconi, and others literally electrified the world. As the uses of electricity multiplied, no one found any obvious effects on living creatures except for the shock and heating caused by large currents. To be sure, no one looked very hard, for fear of discouraging a growth industry, but the magic of electricity seemed to lie precisely in the way it worked its wonders unseen and unfelt by the folks clustered around the radio or playing cards under the light bulb. By the 1920s, no scientist intent on respectable career dared suggest that life was in any sense electrical.

Today, magnetic fields are used extensively in medicine. The most advanced radiology is MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging), then PEMF (pulsed electromagnetic fields) used in fracture healing, TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation) used in the treatment of medication resistant depression and static magnetic fields for treating pain, such as Q magnets. While electric fields are used right throughout medicine, including therapies such as TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation), defibrillators, deep brain stimulation, electrical muscle stimulation, microcurrent, and diagnostically such as EEG (electroencephalogram), ECG (electrocardiogram) and EMG (electromyogram).

There were many positive reforms that eventuated from the Flexner Report, as described by Porter…

Quality had been sacrificed to quantity judged Flexner’s Medical Education in the United States and Canada (1910). A good medical education, he believed, could be obtained only by reducing their number and improving their standards. Educated at Johns Hopkins and the University of Berlin, he strongly believed that medical schools should be university departments on the German model, situated in big cities where there was abundant clinical material. Of all American medical schools only five produced research.

Swayed by the recommendations of the Flexner report, the Rockefeller foundation made funds available to Johns Hopkins University for the creation of full time chairs in clinical specialties such as cardiology. Developments of this kind spread in subsequent years – mainly with Rockefeller support – throughout the United States, and many medical schools sprouted the Rockefeller laboratory, building or chair.

If some savage told us of a magical worm that built a little windowless house, slept there for a season, then one day emerged and flew away as a jewelled bird, we’d laugh at such superstition if we’d never seen a butterfly.

Robert O. Becker

References:

Becker. Robert O, (1985). The Body Electric. Electromagnetism and the Foundation of Life. Morrow. New York.

Porter, Roy, (1997). The Greatest Benefit To Mankind. A Medical History Of Humanity. Norton. New York.

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